Edited by Dave Maxwell
Dave Grohl has experienced a career so unbelievable and unique, it’s almost hard to fathom. First, he was a member of Nirvana – arguably the most successful, influential and game-changing alternative band of all. It was here that Grohl established himself as a hard-hitting powerhouse of a drummer.
Fast-forward over twenty years later, and Dave Grohl is the reigning King of the alternative rock world. As the leader of the Foo Fighters, he threw away his drumsticks (mostly), grabbed a guitar and stepped out in front of the microphone. As the bands primary visionary, Grohl and his ‘Fighters have released eight successful albums, scored countless hit singles and won multiple Grammy awards.
Grohl’s knack for crafting timeless, sing-along anthems is undeniable and his track record as a hit song writing machine is almost untouchable. With twenty-two singles having reached the top ten of the Billboard Alternative Charts (including ten reaching number one,) this type of legacy would be enough to fill most musician’s resume.
But running parallel to his career with the Foo Fighters, Dave has still occasionally sat down behind the kit – with artists ranging from Tenacious D to Nine Inch Nails – to show drummers of all varieties of music just how it’s done. Even though the drums are no longer his primary instrument, his influence on the instrument is undeniable. Alternative Nation has decided to take a look at some of his best performances on the drums from throughout his illustrious career.
10. “Tourette’s” (Nirvana, 1993)
On In Utero, there is a noticeable shift in how the drums sound. Where Nevermind finds them sounding crisp, clear and very loud, In Utero showcases a more in-your-face sound akin to a garage band. There is noticeably less studio polish and more raw emotion pouring through each and every track that finds Grohl delivering more than justice to this underrated Nirvana classic. With fast fills and an absolute pounding bass drum, this song demands more attention from Nirvana fans and drummers alike.
9. “Tribute” (Tenacious D, 2001)
Tenacious D do a solid job of mixing in some pretty solid music in with their comedy-heavy shtick. Dave Grohl has manned the drums for the comedy duo on each of their three studio albums. “Tribute” shows comedian/actor Jack Black and his guitar virtuoso partner Kyle Gass at their finest musical moment. The song goes on without drums until around the two minute mark when Grohl joins in on the fun, kicking the song into gear and leading it to a great finish.
8. “I’ll Stick Around” (Foo Fighters, 1995)
For the eponymous debut of the Foo Fighters, Grohl was a one man show of musical perfection. His first musical venture following the tragic demise of Nirvana, Dave was in full control and able to push his musical vision into the world. On “I’ll Stick Around,” Grohl absolutely punishes his drums, providing the groundwork for this grunge-punk marriage. From the opening snare roll with a subtle four count on the bass drum, the drums drive this early Foo Fighters hit.
7. “Serve the Servants” (Nirvana, 1993)
On Nirvana’s 1993 album In Utero, the band was clearly moving toward a less polished, rawer sounding album. From the first notes of album opener “Serve the Servants,” a changing of the musical guard is undeniable. Throughout Grohl’s history of drumming, he has been known to make use of two consecutive snare hits. When the consecutive hits come in the chorus, they offset the bass and guitar in a way that can sound jarring, but ultimately works so well.
6. “You Know What You Are?” (Nine Inch Nails, 2005)
For his band’s fourth full-length album, Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor brought in Dave Grohl to provide drums for more than half of the tracks on the album. While both men are no strangers to the alternative music scene, the pairing didn’t necessarily seem like an obvious fit. That thought couldn’t be more wrong, as Grohl’s mix of punk-influenced speed with classic rock technicality shines on an otherwise dark album. The first fifteen seconds of “You Know What You Are” are simultaneously anxiety-inducing and excitement building, like most of the music from Nine Inch Nails.
5. “No One Knows” (Queens of the Stone Age, 2002)
In 2002, Dave Grohl made a full return to the drums when he hooked up with Queens of the Stone Age for the recording of their third album, Songs for the Deaf. On the album’s lead single “No One Knows,” Grohl lays down a track so steady, so frenetic it’s not uncommon to leave your seat while listening. Locked in with bassist Nick Oliveri during the verses to rhythm section magnificence, the song’s chorus is where the money is. Grohl’s drum fills – rolling from the snare, through roto toms down to the floor tom and back – are so fast and so precise you really can’t do anything but sit back and listen in awe.
4. “Mind Eraser, No Chaser” (Them Crooked Vultures, 2009)
In 2009, Grohl charged back into the music scene as the drummer for super-group Them Crooked Vultures. Along with Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones and Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh homme on guitar and lead vocals, the Vultures one-off album is truly a musical blessing. On “Mind Eraser, No Chaser” Dave effortlessly holds down the rhythm – keeping it loose and free-flowing during the verses before crashing in the chorus, all while throwing in some vocals for good measure.
3. “Drain You” (Nirvana, 1991)
On “Drain You,” Dave delivers the goods during the verses with a unique drum pattern consisting of bass-snare-bass-snare snare bass-snare-bass-snare-snare. It’s yet another example of utilizing consecutive snare hits. Where a lot of drummers would do a basic drum pattern for a song so rich in melodic harmony, Grohl takes a left turn – giving the song an upbeat swing that carries it all the way to the finish. As a drummer, Grohl is at his best when he walks the line of serving the song but also making it interesting. “Drain You” epitomizes that sentiment.
2. “Song for the Dead” (Queens of the Stone Age, 2002)
Grohl totally owns throughout Queens of the Stone Age’s Songs for the Deaf. There is no greater performance on it other than “Song for the Dead.” When the song starts and Dave goes into his start-stop one man drum competition, you know it’s building into something insane – and it does. With a couple quick-wristed snare rolls, the song melds into a groove-oriented jam, pushing and pulling all the way through. The song goes to a whole other level during the outro and extended outro. The absolute beauty of controlled chaos that is the drumming may be Grohl’s finest moment.
1. “Everlong” (Foo Fighters, 1997)
A well-known fact about Dave Grohl is that he played all of the instruments on the Foo Fighter’s self-titled debut, with the lone exception of a guitar part played by Greg Dulli of The Afghan Whigs’ fame on the track “X-Static.” A lesser-known fact is that he actually ended up playing the drums on ninety percent of the band’s follow-up, 1997’s The Colour and the Shape. “Everlong” may be the best-known Foo Fighters song. It had a hilarious video on MTV and an insanely huge chorus that transcends musical genres with its universal appeal. But the drums – I mean the drums! A great skill for any drummer is independence: the ability to have each hand and each foot operate independently. “Everlong” is a lesson in independence; the high-hat pattern on the verses, mixed with the pace of the actual drumbeat sounds like an orchestra of drummers. Grohl layers the chorus with his trademark rolls/fills going right around his entire drum set. If you listen to “Everlong” and can focus just on the drums, the song will finish and you will be in shock at what you have just heard. Dave Grohl is a man of many talents, but on the drums is where he truly sets himself apart – not only in terms of skill and passion, but just pure fun.